3 excellent letters - first on how Vit A deficiency is being successfully eradicated in a project in south India:
1. NO NEED FOR GM RICE - Independent
2. Response to "Support GM trials" - Darlington and Stockton Times
3. Caution is needed in work on GM Crops - EDP (submitted)
1. LETTER: NO NEED FOR GM RICE
The Independent (London) February 23, 2001, Friday
Sir: Greenpeace are right to be sceptical about golden rice (letter, 17 February). Last month I visited Social Change and Development, a non- governmental organisation (NGO) in Tamil Nadu, south India. They work with more than 300 villages and have eradicated problems of night blindness in children, brought on by vitamin A deficiency, and anaemia with women, both of which had been endemic in the area.
These health problems had become an issue because of the simplified diet associated with the Agrochemical (Green) Revolution. They were problems well known to traditional "health science", known in Tamil Nadu as siddha. For vitamin A the NGO trains villagers to grow and eat papaya, pumpkins, carrots and other yellow vegetables. For iron deficiency, which causes anaemia, they use aloes, a hedging plant. All of these grow easily and cost virtually nothing.
The NGO had not heard of "golden rice", genetically modified to include vitamin A, but said that it represented a step in the wrong direction. A specialist rice would reduce crop diversity and make villagers dependent on purchasing seed. Anyway siddha treats nutrition on a wider basis than single- issue vitamins.
2. Darlington and Stockton Times, Letters, Feb 23 2001
From: Dr. Jeremy Bartlett, Helena Road, Norwich, Norfolk, NR2 3BZ.
Dear Sir or Madam,
I was surprised and shocked to read your recent editorial comment "Support GM trials" (Friday 9 February).
I live in Norfolk, where ten GM crop trials took place last year. Like North Yorkshire, agriculture is the lifeblood of our county and villagers and farmers near the crop trials have watched in impotent anger and dismay as the GM crops have been planted. In most cases, they were told about the crops at the time they were being planted, or not at all. It remains to be seen how good this year's communication exercise will be, but better communication will do nothing if the crops are still planted in spite of local opposition.
Contamination with pollen from GM crops offers a serious threat to the livelihood of nearby farmers and beekeepers. Furthermore, it isn't just nearby farms that will be affected by the trials as bees can transport pollen from GM oilseed rape at least 4.5 kilometres (about 3 miles). In last May's contamination of oilseed rape seed by a GM variety, Advanta (the company supplying the contaminated seed) eventually agreed to compensate farmers. But with GM crop trials there is no mechanism in place to provide compensation.
If the trials were likely to prove or disprove that GM crops were safe, perhaps it would be worth taking this gamble with the environment and people's livelihoods. But they won't. We already know that the herbicides used in the trials - glyphosate and glufosinate ammonium - have adverse effects on soil fungi and bacteria and on earthworms, yet none of these are being monitored in the trials. The crop trials involve growing a crop for one year in a particular site and then monitoring for a maximum of three years (sometimes much less). Yet the effects of GM crops are likely to be subtle and only show up after a number of years. Our experiences with the effects of harmful chemicals on the environment, such as CFCs where it took about sixty years to detect damage to ozone layer, should act as a reminder of this.
Critics of GM crops are often portrayed as "anti-science" but this is not the case. I myself have a PhD in Plant Genetics from the John Innes Institute (now John Innes Centre) in Norwich, one of Britain's most prestigious plant breeding centres. We simply must be realistic and accept that no one, scientists included, has all the answers. Nor is opposition to the trials a "half-baked political protest", for opposition to the trials unites people across the political divide, from all the major political parties - Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green alike.
Dr. Jeremy Bartlett
Sent: Sunday, February 18, 2001 1:19 PM
Subject: Caution is needed in work on GM Crops
Dear Sir or Madam,
I read Moss Taylor's recent column "Caution is needed in work on GM Crops" with great interest (Friday 16 February). I too attended the Norfolk Wildlife Trust meeting at Cley in January, with Dr. Ray Mathias of the John Innes Centre as speaker.
Dr. Mathias did indeed give a clear and easy to understand overview of the history of plant genetics, which took me back to the excitement of studying genetics at university. However, considering his background and obvious grasp of the subject, I was rather concerned that he seemed to know of no unexpected effects from genetic modification. These effects are, in fact, well documented in the scientific literature, where they are even given a name - pleiotropic effects.
Let me give two examples. In 1990, a maize gene coding for a red pigment was introduced into Petunia plants and gave not only the expected red flowers, but lowered fertility, more leaves and shoots and a higher resistance to fungal infection. In another experiment, yeasts genetically engineered to ferment faster also unexpectedly produced thirty times greater amounts of a toxin than non-GM counterparts. Yet it is hardly surprising that introducing genes from totally unrelated species into a random position in a plant's DNA, will cause unpredictable upsets.
Dr. Mathias also covered many examples of possible future developments in genetics, but did not explain that the majority of his examples were actually possible without the use of genetic modification. In particular, the science of genomics and marker assisted breeding, which allows useful genes to be identified and then followed through a series of conventional plant crosses, offers ways of speeding up conventional plant breeding without the inherent unpredictability of GM. Considering the John Innes Centre's expertise in this field, I was surprised that Dr. Mathias did not emphasise this.
Dr. Jeremy Bartlett.